Trials to Triumph

Losing my job has been tough.  There are times when I struggle with my self-worth and with trusting God with my future.  I have nothing left but to learn to trust in God.  Not just a “head-knowledge” about trusting in God, but an honest-to-goodness trusting him with everything.  Trusting him to open doors that seem impossible to be opened.  Trusting him to overcome my own mistakes made in the past.  Trusting him to provide while I have no full-time income.  Trusting him to help me emotionally with the pain of rejection or feelings of inadequacy or low self-worth.  I know that when it feels like life is falling apart, I can trust him.  The question is, do I?

“Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.”  Hebrews 10:23

My entire life consists of plans of one kind or another.  Plans to have breakfast; plan to go to work; plan which road to take to work to avoid traffic . . . I’m a planner (and a list maker, but that’s for another discussion).  The thing is, right now I don’t have a plan so I have to learn to trust in God’s plan for me.  I am content to know that God has a plan for me, but I am less content that he chooses not to reveal it to me.  The details of his plan remain a mystery to me and it seems like God expects me to be content to simply know that he has one, and to trust that it is good. (Jeremiah 29:11)

series_trust_god The truth is that God reigns.  I will look back on this time and see how God used these circumstances to stretch me and teach me.  I know that at the end of this present journey God will have shattered misconceptions I have of him, removed lies I might believe about him or myself, and will have brought me to a place of deeper maturity in him.  Already I am learning what trusting God in my circumstances means.  Here are some of the things I have learned:

The only way to learn about trusting God is to trust God.  I wish it was a simple matter of watching someone else trust God, and then “bam”  – lights come on and I’ve got it down.  Or maybe if I could just read a How-To book I would know how to do trust God in all things.  Unfortunately, the only way to learn how to trust God is by actually doing it.  When I look to the Bible for answers, it doesn’t take me long to realize that God is big on trust.

I never trust God until I have to.  While I would like to tell you that I default to trusting God in all circumstances, my track record shows that if I am in difficult circumstances my first thought is to find a way out of the situation.  But here I am in a situation that I have no control over (believe me, I’ve tried to wrap my brain around how I could control or even predict the outcome – and always come up with the same answer – I can’t).  So I am at a place where I have to trust God.  As a Christian I say that I trust God has something good planned for me and I believe this.  However, if I say that God closed the door on a particular job “because he must have a higher paying or better job in store for me” then I am limiting God.  A bigger paycheck is not the most valuable thing God can give me.  God might have a lower paying job or make me wait for over a year because during this process I will learn humility and be forced to rely on Him every day.  Maybe God closed the door because the trials in store for me will build up a faith that is more valuable.  So, while learning to trust God in all things I need to also learn to change what it is I value so that I begin to value the things that God does.

In our walk with God, he will make sure that we come to place where we have to trust him.  Count on this, God will allow circumstances in my life in which there is no human way of wiggling out of.  Because God loves me, he wants me to trust him.  And the only way to trust him is by doing it (see #1 above – ironic isn’t it?).  I do take comfort in the fact that with an ENTIRE universe to take care of, God loves ME enough to want to teach me how to trust him.  I admit, when doors close on me I tend to cry to God (whine is actually the word I should use).  “Where are you?  Will I ever get beyond my past mistakes?  Just open one door for me.  Give me a sign of your goodness.”  I know, pretty pathetic and desperate sounding.  Instead what I need to do is realize that a closed door does not mean it is the end of the road for me but the beginning.  I need to recognize that everything God does in my life is done with loving care.

Trust God’s plans but recognize that they are not the same as my plans.  How do I know this?  Because all of my plans are much easier and they usually don’t work out the way I wanted them to.  God’s plans, however, never fail.  They can’t; it is a physical impossibility.  My challenge comes in knowing whose plan I am following.  I have to recognize that most of my plans center around success for today while God’s plans center around things like faith, hope and love.  I may be frustrated with the plan I’m on and think it a complete failure while God is looking from his vantage point and calling it a huge success.  Say I go on a job interview and I really want this job.  It’s perfect for me and I feel I’m perfect for that job.  But I don’t get it.  In my eyes, my plan is a failure.  But during the process of trying to get this job God did some powerful work on my heart.  In God’s eyes, his perfect plan was a perfect success.

Trust God when doors close.  They are his attention-grabber.  If I’m sailing along I’m happy to keep cruising like I am.  However, if I lose my ship I start looking for the next ship and it’s then that I will be able to see what God has prepared for me.  It is also when I face closed doors or have nothing left but to trust God that I learn to pray more.  In fact, I get very inspired to pray – often and for long periods of time.  It is during the tough times in my life that I feel the helplessness of my situation and I hit the dust on my knees.  And I don’t stop after a few minutes.  I pray like I’ve never prayed before.  I pray, realizing that it is the hours just before dawn that are the darkest.  I pray until I have an assurance in my heart that God has heard my prayers and I have found peace.

Trust that God is preparing me and wait on his time.  While I wait for whatever God’s plan is for me God is preparing me.  God knows better than I do the qualities and strength I will need to be able to handle what will be given to me.  All the waiting, all the hardships and uncertainty that I am facing now is actually building my faith muscles.  I am being molded and shaped by God to become more like the person he created me to be.  I have to learn to thank God that the more tough my trials the greater plans God has for me.

What it all comes down to – what it takes to look at my trials as triumphs – is to know and trust in my Lord, lean on His ways, meet Him in my devotions, learn from Him in my studies, and be rooted in Christ.  This time is about connecting with Christ so I am growing in Him.  It is in this way that I can lead a life of worth and distinction.  I am learning to see life not as a series of attacks and hurdles to get over, but as a way to learn and grow.  I have a purpose; I have a reason to keep going even in times of confusion or stress or when it seems the odds are against me.  I am learning to allow God’s truth to reign in me and to live with trust and without worry.  It was during the long process of working through his questions and struggles that Job finally resolved to trust God no matter what.  I will trust and be comforted in God’s sovereignty and in his sovereign love.  I will be reminded of God’s promises.  I will look within and be shaped by God’s instruction.  I will be able to say “I give myself to You as never before.”  And finally, I will be comforted by God’s sovereign control and everlasting love.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2

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Broken – Lessons Learned From The Past

Broken – Lessons Learned From The Past

I wrote the following over a year ago, but as I was reading it the other day I realized that these lessons are still a part of me today and worth sharing again.  Thank goodness that God is still building me, shaping me, forming me into a better version of His creation than I ever thought possible.

The most accurate description of brokenness I can come up with is that it is like living on a precipice.  Somehow I’ve had the resilience to climb back up to my perch on the precipice and cautiously stand; afraid to make a move in case I tumble back into one of the valleys that surrounds me on all sides. It’s from this vantage point that I’m writing about a few things I’ve learned.

I have learned that brokenness will either transform or destroy you. What it will never do is leave you the same. I don’t think that experiencing a catastrophic loss, whether self-imposed or from outside forces, will ever entirely leave our soul. If anything it may go deeper in our soul, but as it goes deeper it enlarges the soul so that we become capable of mourning and rejoicing at the same time. We learn what it means to have a sweet sorrow. We never go through this alone. It is in the place of our deepest pain and greatest brokenness that the Lord is mercifully present as we learn to humble ourselves before Him.

I have learned that God works through our brokenness in ways we could never begin to imagine. God partners with broken people. He tells us “I see you, I know you, you are not invisible to me.” He wants to see people reconciled with each other and reconciled with Him. It takes hard work to get to this place. The first thing I have had to be able to face is the truth. Truth about who I am and who I was. Truth about my role in fracturing relationships. I have learned that we can’t be set free from anything in our past unless we are willing to admit it. This doesn’t mean that I have to stand in front of a microphone or produce a detailed recording of confession for everyone. But it does mean that for some relationships I will have to confess before any healing can take place.

I have learned to turn to the Bible. The Bible has become a constant companion. It is my light during moments of darkness. God has spoken words of comfort through it when I desperately needed them. I am learning to spend more time with my Bible than I do with any other human being. It is a love letter to me from God. Jesus Christ has become very real and apparent through the words I read. As more of God’s Word is revealed to me, I am developing a deeper trust for Him. I see God expressing words of intense brokenness, sorrow and grief over me – someone that He loves. I read where He feels the sting of our every wound and weeps with us through every painful moment. The Bible shows me that I am not alone in my sin and that the Christian journey is one of God bringing us out of our sinful, rule-based, self-righteous, self-sufficient, prideful dependence on our own capabilities into dependence on Him. His word is unfolding before me and describing God’s renewing work in the midst of my tears. I understand what Oswald Chambers meant when he wrote, “The Bible was written in tears and to tears it yields its treasures.”

I have learned that the sins we willingly indulge in will become our destruction. When we play with fire, we are going to get burned. God will allow us to suffer the consequences of our sins. Sin can fracture relationships, and it is painful to walk around barefoot among the shards. These broken bonds hurt – they hurt in the deepest places that we never want to talk about. The truth is that sin, unchecked and unrepented of, is devastating. I can no longer walk in my own strength and charm successfully. In fact, charm has flown out the window. I walk in utter failure. I have been emptied of so much of my old self. Admitting I don’t have it all together is hard to do. I can live with that. I will gratefully walk with a spiritual limp from now on.

Repentance follows confession. The Greek word for repentance is “to think in a new direction”. I have offered up both the dry-eyed confession of sin that is more of a decision of will and the sacrifice of gut-wrenching confession that comes from sorrow. Although more painful, I can only hope that all of my confessions from this point on carry the sting of godly sorrow and tears. It was not seeing my sin so glaringly in my face or my world shattered at my feet that brought me to repentance. It was God’s love and kindness, His severe mercy. I could not begin to comprehend all I needed to repent of, because I could not begin to unravel the deceitfulness of my heart. But what I did have was humility in my brokenness. God’s love has accomplished what my legalism never could. It has brought me to a place of brokenness and humility. It is impossible for me to fully understand the disparity between God and myself, but through mercy and love I can begin to see that there is freedom from the chronic, nagging, un-resolved inner pain that drives me away from instead of towards God. Repentance is not punishment. Repentance is what we do because we are forgiven. It is not what we do to earn forgiveness. Repentance is an expression of gratitude and sorrow for sin. We have nothing to fear when we come to God in brokenness and repentance. Through repentance I have found an intimate place of great grace with my Father. From this point of brokenness the possibilities for restoration are boundless.

I have learned much about forgiveness, both my own capacity for extending it and others capacity for giving it. Every morning I have to make a decision to be willing to let go of past hurts or grudges, or I will never be free of them. Forgiveness is about letting go of the right to hold myself or others in judgment about how I feel I have wronged or been wronged by them. Forgiveness is an extension of love and it makes us vulnerable. But one cannot truly love without vulnerability. It was Christ’s love for us that made Him vulnerable and led him to sacrifice himself on a cruel and wonderful cross for those who did not love him.

I have learned that compassion and forgiveness from others are necessary, but once we trust God and His never failing mercy we can continue on even if we never receive compassion or forgiveness from others. Compassion requires us to go to the place where the broken person is. It requires us to go with someone to where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely and broken. To a broken person, the mere flicker of a look of disapproval or pointed silence will cause the shattered soul to shut down. Their hope for understanding seeps deeper into feelings of isolation and despair. They wonder if anyone cares enough to listen. Fear of being rejected or judged or hearing negative messages block our freedom to express grief. The broken person does not need helpful suggestions or scriptures quoted to them. Why is it that the scripture that admonishes us to weep with those who weep is most overlooked? Larry Crabb wrote, “When life kicks us in the stomach, we want someone to be with us as we are, not as he or she wishes us to be. We don’t want someone trying to make us feel better. That effort, no matter how well intended, creates a pressure that adds to our distress.” When the bottom falls out of our world, we need our deacons, elders, ministers, Sunday school teachers, and fellow believers to show up on our doorstep as soon as they can and offer nothing more than prayers and tears. Don’t wait to be asked. Just show up. For someone who is broken, the lack of this immediate reaching out can be the most painful part of the whole process.

Restoration from brokenness is not a quick fix. It is a lifelong process. I will have to make choices to intentionally replace sinful behavior with Godly behavior. There will be days when I must face my past and all the pain and anguish my choice and others choices have caused in my world.

For Christians, brokenness and the healing from brokenness is at the very heart of our faith. Jesus experienced brokenness in the flesh so we can be assured that God knows brokenness not in some abstract, spiritual way but in a very real and physical way. But God didn’t leave Jesus in a broken state. God didn’t give up. God continued a work of restoration in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why is it that when brokenness comes to us, we bury it somewhere deep inside us where it can simmer and gnaw away at our peace, faith and health until it has turned our hearts to stone, compounding our pride and unbrokenness layer by layer?

Brokenness molds our character closer to the character of God. Defeat, disappointment, loss, all of these things move us closer to God. I write this note from an honest admission of my inability to come to repentance or restoration unless Christ intercedes. I write from brokenness and a stripping of self. I am learning to thank God for the gift of holy moments and healing tears that bring me to His feet in brokenness. These moments make room for grace, forgiveness, comfort, healing, delivering and transformation. My sincerest hope is that through my brokenness Christ can be glorified.

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Clean Windows

Clean Windows

A couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. “That laundry is not very clean”, she said. “She doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.”

Her husband looked on, but remained silent.

Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, the woman would make the same comments.

About one month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, “Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this.”

The husband said, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

And so it is with life. What we see when watching others depends on the purity of the window through which we look.

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